Facet analysis and IA

I found Louise Gruenberg's session on facet analysis at the ASIS&T IA Summit eye opening. The discussion began with a look at Ranganathan's PMEST concept for classifying/codifying compound subjects using 5 facets which could apply to all human knowledge and earthly entities. This concept is supported by the colon classification system, which links together associative terms to create unique subjects. We quickly moved on to Louise Spiteri's articles -- Spiteri is Assistant Professor at the Dalhousie University School of Library & Information Science -- which translate Ranganathan into usable terms.

The Spiteri articles are the seminal work for understanding how to practically apply Ranganathan to information work. She defines in certain terms the vocabulary of facets and their use. The loose understanding of facets and application of facet analysis has lead to some confusion in the IA world about what facets are. Spiteri's definitions might help:

    Facets. The broad categories into which the subject area is divided. A facet consists "of a group of terms that represents one, and only one, characteristic of division of a subject field ... no two facets may contain terms that could represent the same concepts". (Italics added for emphasis)

I found this definition to be enlightening given how loosely the concept of facet analysis has been understood and applied with regard to the web. But perhaps taking the flexible approach is the best way to approach facets. The granularity and subdivision that you choose to reduce your facets to really depends on the application, audience and use. It may be difficult to impossible to arrive at an implementation that approaches Ranganathan's ambitious concept. I think it is still possible, however, to come up with servicable systems that use facets as a starting point for classification. They can be simple implementations like the epicurious.com advanced search feature. They can be more complex, like the MLA Bibliography's contextual indexing and faceted taxonomic access system (CIFT) system. I've even come up with a system of my own to approach facets of art objects.

The term facet analysis nags me the way the term business taxonomy does. I was glad that Gruenberg and Amy J. Warner talked about both of these respectively at the IA Summit because they're apparently going to be floating around the IA ether for some time. But, hell, I'm more at home with those terms than with the term UML. So all is well with me.